AFC Sweep on the Line Sunday

With victories over Kansas City in Week Six and Oakland this past Sunday, the Buccaneers are halfway through their annual quartet of interconference games. They are also halfway to an unprecedented AFC sweep.

In 2002, the NFL expanded to 32 teams with the arrival of the Houston Texans and used that opportunity to overhaul their scheduling practices.  The league moved away from the old formula, which was heavily dependent on strength of scheduling from the previous year, and started a much simpler rotation plan.  The idea was to make sure that, within any eight-year period, every team would play at least one home game and one away game against every other team in the league.

Thus, each division rotates annually between the other three divisions in its own conference and the other four divisions in the opposing conference.  The Buccaneers began their AFC rotation in 2002 with the South division and have since rotated two-and-a-half times through the South, North, East and West.

One thing the Bucs have never done, since this new format was installed, was sweep its AFC schedule in any given year.  That possibility still exists in 2012 and, in fact, it will be put to the test once again this coming Sunday. Continue reading

What a Homecoming!

The first thing that greeted Buccaneer RB Doug Martin when he emerged from the Coliseum on Sunday was a row of tables waiting for the players stacked high with In-N-Out Burgers, a Cali favorite.  The second was a huge group of people, many of them wearing red #22 jerseys, waiting specifically for him.

Can’t ask for a better taste of home than that.

Martin, the Oakland-born Buccaneers rookie running back who played his prep ball in the Bay area before heading off to Boise State and then the NFL, had just turned in one of the greatest games by a running back in NFL history.  That it came in his hometown, with so many friends and family members on hand, made it that much sweeter.

Martin passed the table of burgers and the waiting buses and walked over to the cordoned area of Buccaneer fans, where he received a hero’s welcome.  And no wonder – from a football standpoint, he was very much a hero on this day.  There are many ways to slice up the incredible damage he inflicted on the Oakland defense – 251 rushing yards, 272 total yards from scrimmage, four touchdowns, 10.0 yards per carry – but here are two that frame it pretty well: 1) He is just the second player in league history to rush for 250+ yards and four TDs in one game; and 2) He is the first player in NFL annals to have a 45+-yard, 65+-yard and 70+-yard TD run on the same day.

Martin would have been greeted with open arms at the huddle near the Bucs’ buses no matter what happened on Sunday, but given his afternoon the cheers were enormous.

“It’s an exciting accomplishment,” he said.  “It’s even more exciting that I did it at home, my hometown, being around much of my family and friends.  It was very special.  They were very excited to see me after the game and I was excited to see them.  It couldn’t happen any better.”

Martin’s team won, too, which made it that much more satisfying, especially in the stadium he used to visit during his childhood.  Martin set a handful of Buccaneer records (most rushing yards in a game, most scrimmage yards in a game, most rushing TDs in a game) and put up the 10th-best single-game rushing mark in NFL history.

“Couldn’t have scripted a better [homecoming],” Martin agreed, almost shyly, on Monday.  “It happened perfectly.”

“Underrated” Bennett Could Break 10-Sack Drought

In April of 2011, the Buccaneers drafted Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn in the first round and immediately installed him as a starter on the right side.  Clayborn had an impressive rookie season, leading the team with 7.5 sacks and at least coming close to the team’s first double-digit sack season in six years.

Simeon Rice, who had more than 10 sacks in six straight seasons from 2000-05, is the last Buccaneer pass-rusher to achieve that total, which is akin to 1,000 yards for a running back or 3,000 yards for a quarterback.  Even if none of those benchmarks are necessarily indicative of a superstar, they do describe a very productive player, and they still have something of a cachet.

The Bucs may be about to break their 10-sack drought in 2012, but it won’t be Clayborn, the preseason favorite, who gets there.  Clayborn landed on injured reserve after just three games, but the Bucs are getting serious production out of their other starting end, Michael Bennett. Continue reading